Seriously. City of Heroes is approaching its seventh anniversary, and so many bits of brilliance in the design are not found in every game in the world. To be quite honest, it's ridiculous. I'm not just talking about little bits of clever design like attack tags to help differentiate defenses; I'm talking about parts of the game that just run so well and so intuitively that it's a wonder everyone hasn't copied them. So let's look at the stuff that the game gets so right that everyone ought to just use it as a standard.
OK, I'm cheating just a bit here. This is a feature that's comparatively recent in CoH's long lifespan, so it's not as if other games have had the full history of the game to copy this. That having been said, every game with multiple factions should be taking notes on how well the system has been implemented. If you have two or more player factions, there is very little excuse for not immediately getting to work on copying this system, because it is awesome.
It's not just that it allows players to slowly shift factional alignment; it's the fact that it's done in such a permeable way. Get to the end of the Alignment chain and realize you don't want to change? You can back out. Does the development team want faction switches to be easier or harder? Change the drops on tip missions or lower the number of points needed for a Morality mission.
There's even incentive for players to stay where they start, since it means you rack up the rewards for reaffirming an alignment even more quickly.
The more I learn about game design, the more I'm enamored of Inspirations. Yes, they occupy the same spot as any number of other consumable items in other games, but they have three major differences -- they've got an insanely high drop rate (you have to really work at running out of inspirations); they've got their own little segmented storage to hold nothing else; and if you find yourself overloaded on something you don't need, you can exchange three of one type for one of another type.
Managing your little inventory of temporary bonuses results in some interesting gameplay -- you can save up some big ones for a tough fight, but you're encouraged to keep burning off the bonuses as more keep dropping. The result is that you always have options and some way of buffing your survival and damage output, even if you're not a class normally given to that sort of buffing. That strikes me as insanely worthy.
No healing slump
One of the big promises that Guild Wars made was that Monks could be more than just healers. This turned out to be true in the sense that there were skills with non-healing features, but it barely mattered since nearly all players ran the class as a healing class, leaving the more offensive abilities to be lost in the shuffle.
Not so with Defenders. While there are some (such as yours truly) who prefer a more defensive-oriented primary set than some of the available options, even an Empathy defender is going to find time to target an enemy and let fly with some damage. There's no point in a group in which the designated healer is just playing whack-a-mole with slowly emptying life bars. When support archetypes have plenty of offensive powers and plenty of time to use those powers, being in the rear of a group is much more entertaining in CoH than in most games.
I like soloing. I like knowing that whatever time of day I have available, however much time I have to play, I can make some reasonable progress toward a goal. But I also like grouping and having motivation to meet up with new people, to jump in and start working as a team against hordes of enemies. I'm annoyed when content is group-locked, but I'm also unhappy when the only real reason to group up is momentum or nostalgia.
Whether games hit that balance just right comes down to personal preference, but the structure of CoH encourages flexibility. You'll level more slowly solo than in a group, but there's very little content that you can't handle on your own if you just don't have the time or inclination to group up. Beyond even that, grouping is easy and never hindered by issues of level difference. A level 50 can help a level 5 and still get reasonable rewards for doing so. A lot of games have recently swung far more toward the solo side, but CoH gives reasons and opportunities for both styles.
The police scanner
Forget bank robberies; just focus on the scanner itself. (Or the newspaper, which was the original implementation.) This is awesome in part because it's very genre-aware, but it's even better because it effectively eliminates gaps in content. If you're having trouble with a particular mission or just want some low-impact crime-fighting (or crime-causing), the system gets you right into the thick of things within a handful of seconds.
Yes, I know, the maps and enemies are all random, and sometimes that can result in really annoying setups. (These days my Crab Spider really loathes getting Freakshow missions.) But the scanner adds a level of flexibility and immediacy, content that's just repetitive enough to be familiar without being boring. There are a lot of other games that could benefit from providing such content on demand, if for no other reason than to smooth over leveling curves.
I freely admit this week's column is half gushing, but hey, some positivity never hurt anyone. (With the exception of inhabitants of the Negative Zone, I think. Never was terribly clear on that.) Feel free to share your thoughts or other features you wish were more widespread in the comments, or mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, back to the archetypes.
By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre unveils his secret identity in Paragon City and the Rogue Isles every Wednesday. Filled with all the news that's fit to analyze and all the muck that's fit to rake, this look at City of Heroes analyzes everything from the game's connection to its four-color roots to the latest changes in the game's mechanics.